How you can optimise your losses

Here’s a cautionary tale for you. Back in March 2010 James Henderson, managing director of Cohannon Inn Ltd (which includes a filling station in Dungannon, County Tyrone), was approached by Energy Saving Company, an approved agent for Carbon Trust. It offered to supply electricity optimisers paid for via a no-interest loan from Carbon Trust.

This seemed a very good idea and James purchased three, costing around £15,000 each for installation in his two Spar stores and hotel. The supplier and the manufacturer, Ashley-Edison, did site surveys and did the work.

By mid-October 2011 James says he noticed that the optimiser feeding the petrol station wasn’t working. He got in touch with Energy Saving. "It then started to go a bit pear-shaped," he says, "but Christmas was arriving and optimisers were not at the forefront of my mind."

By January 2012, he was chasing daily, with Energy Saving telling him that the manufacturer wasn’t getting back to them. James did his own research at this point and thought that Energy Saving was in trouble. He was right because the company was no longer in business. This left James with only one other avenue so he began to pursue Ashley-Edison directly.

Sixteen months later there has been an enormous exchange of emails but no resolution. And by now, a second optimiser is faulty. "So now I’ve got approximately £30,000-worth of equipment not working. I haven’t gone in all guns blazing. I’ve been asking for help but it has fallen on deaf ears."

For its part, Ashley-Edison is blaming an incorrect installation for which it is not responsible. It has offered to send an engineer over to Northern Ireland to fix it, but at a cost of £6,700.

Ashley-Edison says it visited the petrol station site in March 2011 and removed a damaged bypass switch but noted that, as the installation was not ideal, the problem could re-occur.

James wonders why he was not informed of this at the time.

"If someone was over here and noticed that the installation was poor, why would they not tell someone here on site, send a report to us, do something in regard to letting us know?"

He concludes: "Anyway all in all it doesn’t change anything; 16 months after my first request to Ashley-Edison for help, I’m still no further on. It bothers me that why, if they knew my installation was poor, they wouldn’t inform me/my business directly that I may have a warranty issue etc.

"I do believe that I have been very unfortunate that the supplier went bust. I suppose, strictly to the letter of the law, Ashley-Edison doesn’t have to help me out but people need to be made aware that if something like this happens to them, there is no protection."

Forecourt Trader asked Ashley-Edison for its comment and managing director Alan Dover replied: "It’s a real pity that the company Cohannon Inn chose to do this project for them has gone bust and ceased trading. We have offered all the reasonable help we can give to Cohannon Inn, but obviously our costs need to be met for this. We note that Cohannon Inn appear to accept that we have no legal liability in relation to these problems and hope that they will now proceed and withdraw the court case they started against us before more legal fees are incurred."

I have to add a few things here. James Henderson did not make a "bad choice". How could he? Secondly, there is a lot of talk about morality in business these days morality of government ministers, banks, corporations, big companies. And thirdly, they say a dissatisfied customer tells at least eight people. Through this column, James has told several thousand.

It’s the way they shuffle the deck

Are you paying through the nose for cards? I wrote a piece in April featuring Chris and Marion Clark, who trade two miles north of Orkney, and who were paying more and more for processing debit and cashback transactions through Streamline. They went on a quest for something cheaper.

Meanwhile I was contacted by Suresite, which is a Barclays Bank master merchant offering a range of payment card solutions. It not only promised to be cheaper but operations manager, David Wright, worked out how much cheaper based on Chris Clark’s figures which again I had featured in April.

Their February bill of £90 for 173 transactions, rental, compliance etc would have been £55 through Suresite.

The debit rate that David quoted was 11.2p but he adds that that is for transaction day plus one.

"As this seems to be the preferred option. If the site were happy to wait for two more days before receiving their monies,then the rate would reduce from 11.2p to 9.95p."

I was too late with this information for the Clarks when I spoke to Marion this month the couple had seen an ad for First Payment Direct and got a deal that also halved their cost. After some initial teething troubles it all seems to be settling in nicely.

As Marion says, this is a hopelessly confusing market. The banks are no help. As David Wright says: "It’s a black art."

Trouble is, these are all dressed up as packages and need professional interpreting. David says the best way for him to do this is to look at a current bill to see whether it can be improved. If you want to check it out, you can ring him on 01772 790901.

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